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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Arlene DiBenigno goes from Senate sinecure to Mike Haridopolos campaign consultant

15

July

Updated: Arlene DiBenigno has been working on the U.S. Senate campaign of Senate President Mike Haridopolos for the past two months, confirming suspicions in the Capitol that Haridopolos gave her a special government job with a $75,000 annual salary until campaign season rolled around.

Her job in the Senate: ´╗┐director of minority outreach, a new post. It was unclear what DiBenigno did, except one time she helped speak Spanish to a group of protestors who opposed an immigration bill that Haridopolos' Senate ultimately watered down.

But it's not like she left. She's on unpaid leave. The Senate directory issued yesterday still has her on it.

When we asked DiBenigno about the rumors this spring, she swatted them down, but begged not to be written about. But she didn't deny she might work for the campaign in the future.

DiBenigno inherits a campaign that's either in free-fall, imploding or just simply stalled. And, if her past relationships with other campaigns is any indications, she's had a role in pushing out rivals, creating the chaos and reaping the whirlwind she sowed. But who knows? She won't call back.

DiBenigno's strength: Her grassroots organization in Miami-Dade County. She's a former Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist aide and played a role in Gov. Rick Scott's campaign for governor. She also worked in Crist's administration. So she has considerable experience working for campaigns and government.

Haridopolos made a big show of cutting staffer jobs before he took over the Senate this year, but the idea that he gave some taxpayer padding to his administration for his political ends is likely to become a campaign issue. It wouldn't be the first time Haridopolos personally benefitted from his government job. He parlayed his role as a Senator into a rare, $152,000 book deal with a community college. The book, when it was finally published years later, ultimately haunted his campaign. Later, he landed a $75,000 a year job at the University of Florida as a lecturer -- a sore spot for professors who said he was overpaid, underqaulified and overly partisan. We hear that former Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, helped get Haridopolos the job at the Graham Center. But he later regretted it. Haridopolos is no longer at the Graham Center.

[Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 4:58pm]

    

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